The Power of Print
By Robert Taylor
If visitors walk into
museums and galleries thinking that prints are lesser achievements
than paintings, or not original works of art, the
exhibit “California in Relief” will set them on the right
path. Curated by San Francisco artist Art Hazelwood, the survey of nearly
100 works, subtitled “A History in Wood and Linocut Prints,” is
both a historical and contemporary revelation.
The exhibit, covering nearly a century of prints by artists working
in Northern California, is on view through Sept. 20 at Hearst Art
Gallery on the Saint Mary’s College of California Campus
in Moraga. It is installed for both high impact and intimate study
by gallery director
Carrie Brewster and exhibitions manager Jim Whiteaker.
What power stirs from a block of wood or a slab of linoleum and
a roller wet with ink! Hazelwood has selected many works reflecting
political causes, but the dramatic force comes from the artist’s
hand as well as the issue. “California in Relief” dispels
any notion that a print has less presence than some other genre
That dramatic impact extends from Meta Hendel’s circa-1930 color
wood engraving, “Hibiscus (Taormina-Sicily),” with flowers
that look ready to leap out of the frame, to Anthony Ryan’s 2005
color woodcut, “Unfinished Building: Mission District,” an
expressionistic riot of splayed residences with gaping windows
under a nightmarish sky.
Other scenes that might be considered placid also come alive. Charles
Surendorf’s surreal “Ghost Town, Jerome,” a circa-1945
linoleum engraving, seems to erupt from the ground. Henry Sugimoto’s
woodcut “Along a Beaten Path,” circa 1965, depicts
barracks and trees with bare branches reaching plaintive toward
the sky. (Sugimoto
often returned for his subject to the relocation camp experience
he and thousands of families of Japanese extraction shared during
Hazelwood curated an exhibit of Richard Correll and Frank Rowe’s
works, “Six Decades of Their Art of Social Conscience,” at
San Francisco’s Meridian Gallery in 2005, and the two artists also
take their place at the Hearst Art Gallery. Rowe’s circa-1970 color
woodcut of Bobby Seale is the stunning cover illustration for the exhibit
brochure. Correll’s 1970 woodcut, “Vineyard March” depicts
a 1965 episode in the grape boycott led by Cesar Chavez, with a
vineyard seeming to rise up to join the marchers.
So many works are drawn from the artists’ own experiences, including
Mildred Rackley’s 1943 waterfront wood engraving, “Submarine
Tender,” and Linda Lee Boyd’s 1989 color woodcut “Pouring
Concrete III,” based on people she worked with in construction
firms and at the Port of Oakland.
Just around a corner panel in the exhibit is a 1965 woodcut modestly
titled “Hand” by Frank Cieciorka, who was working with
voting rights activists in that era. It is so basic, just a fist,
a print not
much larger than 2-by-3-inches. Yet it was one of the precursors
of the fists on buttons, T-shirts and posters that launched decades
and political activism. Among the scores of prints on display,
it most depicts the power of simplicity.
Robert Taylor is the former
writer of the Contra Costa Times. He has written for the San Jose
Mercury News, Los Angeles Times and Southwest Art magazine.